Sony Ericsson marries J2ME with Flash

Sony Ericsson announced that it would release a new technology that would basically marry Flash Lite with J2ME. The new technology and tools, referred to as "Project Capuchin" make, it says, it possible to "combine the richness of Flash and J2ME technologies allowing developers to utilize the best attributes of both software stacks to create content-rich mobile applications". Sony Ericsson wants to launch this in H2/2008 and will demonstrate apps running under this at JavaOne in SF next week.

The concept is pretty cool: the thing is said to allow pure Flash Lite content to be encapsulated in J2ME applications, making content created in Flash appear as Java apps. It goes on to say that "more advanced capabilities will allow FlashLite technology to handle an entire presentation layer and make it possible to create Java ME applications where some or all UI components are defined in Flash."

I have reported a little on Flash Lite and its moves into the markets in the past (see e.g. here and here). One obstacle always was the device footprint. If you can make a Flash app appear to be a Java one, this gap would appear to be immediately reduced to, yes, zilch, zero, naught, nothing at all. So this would bring us the slick UI and interfaces we all so love from the Flash world to all the Java-enabled phones immediately.

What I would really like to know though is what the porting would be: would one be able to address everything in one build, Flash graphics being vector-based and all and therefore automatically adaptable to all screen sizes? That would be a real killer. I'm thrilled...

Mobile Advertising works!

We seem to be having another successful showcase of mobile advertising: this time, mobile ad firm Greystripe and research firm Dynamic Logic have produced a report that confirms that mobile ads are uber-effective: they report about a case study for a mobile advertising campaign for The Golden Compass (which was broadcast during load times for certain mobile games). The campaign brought about a 19.3% increase in awareness of the film’s title a 9.5% increase in interest in seeing the film among all respondents. The ad apparently also outperformed a typical online advertising campaign by 52% in terms of brand awareness.

The case study also states that results showed that WAP sites were effective in influencing
a highly-engaged audience, particularly when advertising new movies:

  • Among overall respondents, 35% say they use their mobile phones for “finding theater and movie times,” and 29% “watch movie trailers.”
  • Frequent movie-goers — those who have seen at least two movies in the theatre in the past two months — use the mobile Internet more often than non-frequent moviegoers (79% for frequent movie-goers vs. 58% for non-movie goers).
It would have been interesting to know if the game was actually the mobile game for the Golden Compass (published by Glu, which was surprisingly absent from any mention) or if it was just more or less random games selected. There was also only little to read about the details of the survey, etc, etc. As Greystripe has somewhat of a vested interest in this, one might be querying...

The naked numbers from above are in themselves impressive. However, I am calling for more information here as this is per se not substantial enough to merit a whole big new world... I am inquiring for more details... Fingers crossed.


Ringtones, Wallpapers & SMS in the UK

English newspaper The Guardian published the results of a couple of recent surveys on mobile content, including the quarterly "Orange Digital Media Index" and a study carried out by TNS and, alas, no real surprises here:

  • Ringtone and wallpaper downloads are slowing and are on the decline and, frankly, who in their right mind with a phone that plays MP3s, has a good camera as well as multiple connections to a computer, would spend money on such little gimmicks anymore? Ringtones were down more than 10%, whilst wallpapers still grew but at a meager 3%.
  • Full-track downloads of songs though were on the rise -- 292,000 in January on Orange UK compared to only 100,000 ringtones.
  • SMS are going strong (up 21% or 1.3bn for the month in the UK) according to Orange, a number to which I, through my 12-year-old son's phone bill, contribute no small share...
  • TNS believes mobile IM is on the rise but this is not really the big thing. What IS the big thing is that, according to TNS, more than 1 in every 3 messages a user sends from either his/her mobile OR computer are SMS (38%), and that shows how ubiquitous the whole thing has become. Again, judging by my son's communication patterns, I believe that: his choice of messaging is - in order of relevance: 1) SMS, 2) IM, 3) (and I mean a very, very distant 3) e-mail.
So pretty much all as expected. Unfortunately, no news on mobile video, games or applications in this one although this is there might actually have been interesting things to report. I am actually wondering now why I even bothered recording this at all... Apologies...


Blyk now at 100k subs

Now, I will not claim that they ramped up their efforts as a result of my comments a few days ago, but Blyk announced today that they breezed past the 100,000 subscriber mark. So, well done them!

It does not however alleviate my concerns about the general business model, I have to say. They are not revealing ARPU or anything like that. The overall constraints of the ad-funded approach do, I think, remain. I stand to be corrected but would need to see a more robust business parameters to be convinced...

PS: Thanks to BitRabbit for the heads-up!


Alltop: new site for mobile news and everything else under the sun...

One of the ventures backed by Apple legend and Garage Technology Ventures founder (and of course blogger extraordinaire) Guy Kawasaki has just launched a wonderful site syndicating feeds from loads of mobile-related news from all over the web. You'll find it here. And, yes, I am greatly humbled to be part of it (and will therefore happily boast with it here... forgive me).

Alltop, which is the new venture, not only provides information on the mobile sector though: they syndicate a host of items grouped by topic; they call it "an "online magazine rack" that displays 'all the top' stories for popular topics". Great stuff and thanks for having me!


DigiChoc brings its mobile games to the web...

Mobile games developer & publisher Digital Chocolate has started to port some of its games over to the PC format in order to allow players a flavour of it prior to committing to pay. Users can play the game as an online Java version for free. They can then choose to purchase it as a downloadable PC product ($9.99) or - directly from the website - on mobile (prices will probably vary per country/operator).

It is yet again a try to get word out to the gaming community by more than just placing the games on as many mobile operator portals as possible (which is still where the majority of games are being sold). Digital Chocolate have been on the forefront here: their Facebook adaptation of their hit title TowerBloxx has found a huge following on the social network. There is no information (or at least none available to me) to tell if this leveraged sales of the title on mobile, too, but it is a good way to bypass the very limited space that carriers' WAP portals can allow.

The online trial version is a sweet idea although one could say that some connected features and high-score tables (as available on said Facebook app) might add a little more flavour. I suppose any premium PC sales will add incremental revenue. From a mobile game developers' perspective, it is only one more port after all, a laugh compared to the hundreds and hundreds of handsets that need to be supported.

Well done, guys!


Blyk: ad-funded MVNO revisited

Ad-funded MVNO Blyk's business is something I had long wanted to comment upon but, alas, never got around to. But as it was now reported that they increased their advertiser base from 44 to 117, now here we go...

Blyk is an ad-funded MVNO stricly for the 16-24 year-olds. It launched in September 2007 in the UK (running via the Orange network) and, on its website, promises to roll out to go "pan-European" this year.

Does it catch on? Blyk recently reported that they reached 30,000 subscribers in the UK and would ad 3,000 per week. However, they had also said they'd hit 50,000 by March and I have yet to hear of that milestone; even a Google search doesn't reveal any progress report beyond the 30,000...

There has been some talk about issues in signing up to the full service but that may well be from rumour-land, so let's ignore it here.

As a Blyk subscriber, you get 43 minutes of voice and 217 texts a month for free as long as you opt in to receive up to six ads to your phone a day. After that, Blyk subscribers, all of whom are pre-paid users, pay 10p (US$0.20) per text and voice calls are charged at 15p (US$0.30) per minute. Applying these rates to the free voice and texts, you get services worth GBP 28.15 (c. US$ 56.30) per month for free. This is therefore the amount they need to make back from advertisers (who include Sony Ericsson, Coca Cola, SonyBMG, I-play, Ford, Adidas and Mastercard) in order to break even (let's assume the operating costs are absorbed in the margin on actual cost per voice minute and SMS, which should be somewhere around 40%). On 6 messages per day, this equals 15.6p (c. US$ 0.31) required ad revenue per message in order to make good for that (operating costs aside), the equivalent of a CPM of a hefty US$ 310 (compared to a market average of US$ 25-40). With the chronically cash-deprived user base that they are targeting, one can probably well assume that most users will in fact use their allowance in full.

So how do the economics work? And do they work at all? According to fellow blogger Jan-Michael Hess from Mobiliser.org the reason Blyk claims to justify this very high CPM is there apparently very high click-through rate (CTR) of 29% on average (anywhere between X and 43%). But can this be sustained? One cannot force users to click through. If each user gets 180 messages per month, how likely are they to act on an average of 2 per day? Not very, I'd say... This means that they are more likely to having to come down on their CPM. And this is where the fact that they apparently managed to nearly triple their advertiser-base is interesting: did they do so on their original CPM? Or did they have to drop it? Alas, the report doesn't reveal this crucial bit of information...

CPM is key to Blyk's business model and I would consider it highly unlikely that it will be able to command such a premium to the market, also as 30,000 users aren't the world. Youth may be the killer target market that can create or make or kill new brands and it is therefore very interesting to advertisers. But, as has been pointed out, this particular target market is also fickle: free offers are loved but connection via community and brand means that users want to get in touch any way possible. More often that not mobile youth have several mobile prepaid cards all with special offers and bundled rates. They are tech-savvy and will often know where and how to get the free or cheap voice calls they need when they need them (to which I, the father of a near-13-year-old boy, can already testify).

My preliminary verdict is therefore: not very likely to succeed.


Carriers lose content sales to off-deck

I wrote about this phenomenon a short while ago here but now Business Week has some further stuff to tell us. They quote an analyst that the share of content sales via carrier decks versus so-called off-deck (or D2C providers) will drop from its current 80% to only 25% in 5 years time. And, interestingly, all of the sudden the carriers contend they had said it all along: now they claim that a single piece was not as meaningful as access. In the latter the juice is (Sprint Nextel). and now they claim that they never said that content would take over the workd (AT&T).

Do I hear bit-pipe? The article reports that revenue from wireless data, which includes mobile content and Web access, rose 53%, to $23 billion, in 2007, according to CTIA. And, yes, that's the bit pipe. The carriers start to love it? Hooray!

With D2C giants like Jamba, Thumbplay or Zed all reporting (or being said to record) very meaningful revenue numbers (Zed reported $500m in revenues last year), and OEMs on the move into a more service-driven model (with Nokia as the spearhead; see here, here and here), the pressure onto the carriers seems to have mounted so much that they now look to what they have traditionally been doing best: provide network access and bandwidth (be it for voice or data).

Enter: flat-rate data, walled gardens are so yesterday...


Get content! 200m downloads in 2 years...

200m downloads? Who is doing that, you say? Who do you reckon? Zed, Jamba, Thumbplay? No, not them. Getjar, a website featuring free mobile phone downloads (and a logo that cries out for a pro) announced that it recorded 200m downloads in 2 years of operation. See? Users do download content, so where's your problem? Well... the downloads are not paid for, you see? This makes for a somewhat warped business model...

So, whilst Getjar would certainly appear to prove that consumers are keen to download content and applications to their phones, it does not prove that they would be willing to pay for it. And with mobile advertising sluggish to make a commercially meaningful impact (at least from developers' point of view) that is somehow not so good really... Better then the Jamba's et al as they at least make money from it and pay their developers.

Congratulations to the good folks from Getjar anyhow. I hope at least you guys got a good numbers of clicks on your Google apps...

iTunes the largest music retailer

Not really mobile but at least digital and interesting in any event: a news release has it that Apple's iTunes had overtaken mighty Wal-Mart as the US' largest retailer of music. Best Buy was ranked third and Amazon.com and Target tied for the fourth spot in January and February, it is reported.

iTunes apparently sold more than 4 billion tracks since its launch in 2003. The survey counted every 12 digital downloads as one CD but excluded mobile music sales. Apple claims more than 50 million customers. This is a rather impressive development: They sold around 25m tracks in 2003, surpassed the 1bn mark only 3 years later and hit 3bn in July2007.

Twitter's pains & (chance of) gains

I have been dealing with Jaiku and Twitter, the micro-blogging machines, a lot recently (see here, here and here). Today though, I stumbled across an article that put a rather different twist to it, and it makes you wonder... The piece is written by a mother of 3 daughters who tries to use Twitter as a mass communication tool (broadcast SMS) only to be utterly frustrated as none of her "super-communicating" daughters takes it up - too complicated, too onerous, too cumbersome, too - as one academic has it - surveillance-style.

Now, is that so? It would counter my (borrowed) argument of the intrinsic attraction of objects to social circles around such objects. It doesn't seem to work with daughters though... Well, I wonder: The mom, a tech-savvy NY Times journalist, tries to put Twitter to a use, namely to shorten communication with her 3 daughters (no need to having to tell each of them - separately - that she is on the way to XYZ). However, the object of interest to each of the daughters is very different to the ones of the others (cardigan, pizza, shopping, ...). So, no stumbling block after all: Twitter, et al are for people who group around a common object, which must be of common interest (e.g. the status and availability of black cardigans in the NY youth scene), not around one that only seems to be common (mom). Mom only happens to be at a point of interlinking circles, different objects that all touch her; she is not - at least not in the examples elaborated upon in the article - the central object herself.

Adoption-wise, this does of course not make things easier as the Twitters of this world need to migrate user behaviour: fans of Cheshire golf clubs or the NY indie music scene, Parisian vernissage goers and Seattle jazz fans will all have had ways to communicate prior to Twitter's entry on stage; they need to be convinced that this is a superior tool to keep the community buzzing. And because there is slightly less vanity space involved (Twitter doesn't allow you nearly as much room to put your wares on display), the communication bit must be utterly compelling to pull people across. It is the only USP the concept has. And this explains why the take-up is not as quick as for other social media: this is the raw core of it, and the simple truth is - as we know never simple.

I am hopeful though that they'll find a way: object-centered sociality is the way!